The IPL season is finally over. After 76 matches, the Mumbai Indians lifted the coveted trophy yesterday with a clinical performance in the finals against Chennai Super Kings. CSK fought hard and fought admirably, but they were stranded short on the last stretch. It can be said that the two best teams faced off in the finals — and I would probably also say that this was the best IPL we have had among the six editions till date.
The one team which captured everyone's hearts was Rajasthan Royals. Led by the ever-charming Rahul Dravid, it was a team which was quite difficult to hate. In spite of being in the thick of things in the IPL fixing scandal, in spite of losing a couple of their regulars in midst of the tournament, they finished third on the podium. It was their first appearance in the playoffs since they won the inaugural season of the IPL, and they proved that the sum is quite often bigger than the parts.
That being said there were a few players who were crucial to Rajasthan's success in this season of the IPL. They were the vital cogs that kept the machinery chugging. So, here is looking at five players who shaped the season for the Royals.
Ajinkya Rahane: Rahane was in imperious touch last season. He was among the top run-scorers and wasn't much far away this season as well. He scored 488 runs at an average of 34.85 with four half-centuries. Though his strike-rate was a wee bit on the lower side at 106.55, his form in the middle of the tournament was crucial for the Royals. His innings against the Kings XI, Pune Warriors and Delhi Daredevils led to wins for his team; very important in the context of the tournament. With the reshuffle happening next season, Rahane will be a player that the Royals are quite sure to retain.
James Faulkner: Picked up at a relatively cheap 400k USD in this year's auction, Faulkner was easily one of the the buys of the IPL. He started off a bit slowly, but picked up steam as the season progressed and ended up with 28 wickets — second highest wicket-taker this season. He was wicked with his variations in pace and also his line and length, which was how he got majority of his wickets. His batting credentials were largely untested, but he more than made up for it with his bowling. He came into this tournament with the reputation of being a skillful T20 bowler, and he goes back with his reputation enhanced.
Stuart Binny: He was the surprise package. Binny's big hitting credentials were never in question, but his consistency was. And he answered those questions pretty well. He often provided the Royals with the final thrust that was missing for them last season. He scored 293 runs at an average of 32.55. More importantly, the strike-rate was 147.23, the highest of the Royals batsmen who had scored more than 100 runs. He was also given the ball on occasions, and he didn't disappoint there either. Picking up six wickets at an economy rate of 6.75, Binny played his part to perfection. His performance in this season of IPL is almost certainly a knock at the selectors doors for a place in the Indian T20 side.
Shane Watson: A 4-0 drubbing and 'Homework' gate later, Shane Watson did not have the best of time in India to start with. He started off his Royals campaign insipidly, with a run of low scores and finally came into his own in the match against the Chennai Super Kings. His century, though in a losing cause, kick started his dominance in the IPL. The numbers tell the story for themselves. He was the leading runscorer for Royals, amassing 543 runs at a fantastic strike-rate of 142.89. Add to that 13 wickets at a decent economy rate of 7.15. Not for nothing was he given the MVP award for this season. One can expect Watson's journey with the Royals to continue, as it is quite obvious that he will be one of the retainees.
Rahul Dravid: From “Dravid is too slow for T20” to “Dravid's wicket will be crucial for the opposition”. Not a change many would expect a 40-year-old player to make. But for the kind of professional he is, Dravid did that. Yes, he made 471 runs at a strike-rate of 110.82 and in the process became only the sixth player to score 2000 runs in the IPL. But it was his captaincy and mentoring which led Royals to third position. He was easily the best captain this season — he backed his younger players fully, and they responded in kind more often than not. He opened when the conditions were tougher, dropped down when the pitch needed some big hitting. To keep it simple, Dravid was at his selfless best. Without his presence, the Royals might have found it tough to give the kind of performances they did this season. Save the best for the last they say. That's exactly what I did.